Disclaimer: My reviews will not dive into all the specs and comparisons to tons of other lenses. You have plenty of resources out there to break down numbers, use MTF charts, pixel-peep, and more. What I do is run my thought process in buying any new gear, followed by my everyday use with it through situations I expect to be in often and hope you will be too. You may not agree with my approach and opinion and that’s fine, but I hope you understand my perspective.
I was a little skeptical of all the raves for the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art when I was checking my usual photography groups on Facebook, even with some examples posted. F/1.4 is a tough sell for me given the typical steep jump in price even from an f/1.8 lens. I understand the benefit, have rented lenses like the Nikon 85mm f/1.4, but it was hard to justify that one as a keep on me lens for what I am shooting. Here’s why:
Shot @ f/1.8, this lens is sharp. I just give myself a little leeway with aperture with my almost-always-moving daughter, though even f/1.8 is tough. More sample images near the end.
That Depth of Field for an F/1.4 Lens
While the creaminess of the bokeh of an f/1.4 lens is pretty awesome to look at, that depth of field has its cons too. The biggest thing is what I photography most, active children and families. As such, if you haven’t used an f/1.4 lens ever, you will be really surprised for the closer shots how little depth of field you have to work with. Seriously. If you aren’t perfectly still, using a tripod, or have a perfectly still subject matter, even being a hair off is enough to lose the eyes in focus and well.. put their hair or nose or something else in focus instead. If your subjects are farther away, you have a little leeway of course. Still, the point of having this lens for a portrait is to take advantage of getting those eyes in focus and using the f/1.4 lens AS an f/1.4 lens. If you’re like me and need to shoot more stopped down to get more in focus, it kind of defeats the purpose. This goes for all of these kinds lenses, not just the Sigma. Just consider what you’re photographing.
It’s a “Boring” Focal Length
This will annoy some photographers. Without it being a debate, for my own work, the 50mm just seems… boring. It’s pretty much what I see with my eyes already, and believe it or not, I like to photograph something beyond that. I know how my 85mm or my 135mm or my 200mm will look in my head, and as such, the 50mm wasn’t as exciting to me. Again, before you lose your mind over how much you LOVE the 50mm, this is my personal preference.
Now here’s the other thing. Are you working in a space where you can’t afford the luxury of a longer length lens, especially ones like a 70-200mm where the minimum focus distance is something like 6 feet? That’s a HUGE reason to consider this lens, and really enjoy photographing WYSIWIG. I think though, that if space is tight, this and a 24mm or 35mm would be a good addition.
The Sigma 50mm ART’s Weight and Feel
A lot of my previous discussion is generic to those sizes and general depth of field information. So, in getting more to the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART, the first thing I noticed is the weight of it. I’m coming from an old Nikon 50mm f/1.8D lens. That’s a simple little lens that got me started with my first DSLR. It was fine. It was slow. It was light. This lens has some girth to it. It’s a longer lens than I expected, and feels like a tank. For someone wanting to trim as much off in weight as possible for carrying around, this isn’t the way to go. Granted, it’s fine for me, but in comparison to other prime lenses, like my Nikon 85mm f/1.8, you feel it. That can also be a pro though for some. It’s sturdy, feels very professional, and just feels good overall. You have to decide though if the weight is worth it for a carry-around lens if that’s what you’re looking for. I would definitely try it before buying it if you are worried that could even be an issue. My wife makes fun of me for what I usually have in hand, my camera, flash on top for fill and even a 70-200mm walking around. She hates handing it to me and wonders how I can hold it all day. So while the sturdiness is a nice aspect, weight could be a factor for you.
The Sigma ART’s Sharpness
Detail shot from another photo (see samples below) @ f/1.4. I wanted to show that even at ISO560 with some grain, you get some good details to hair.
Well, with all the hype, I had to say I was impressed by the sharpness at f/1.4. I said it before, but if you’re buying a wide open lens, it has to be good wide open. That’s the point. Again, be warned with my earlier point on DOF. If you aren’t getting sharp images, make sure you’re actually stable, your subject is stable and you have a shutter speed to freeze things. They could all be at fault before you question your copy of the lens. Trust me, I’ve missed plenty with a moving target. You’ll see the difference.
And let’s be honest, sometimes as much as we strive for sharpness in a lens, when we do portraits (or really any work) sometimes an ethereal feel is ok. You definitely get the feeling in the bokeh of this lens, but if you need the subject sharpness, it’s definitely there. You can be as happy as I am with it. Stopping down is what you’d expect, greater DOF and greater sharpness along the way.
Some Sample Images
Again, everyday use examples from me for this. I tried not to reduce noise too much to see detail. I was indoor, outdoor, using my incredible daughter as my muse. I usually hope she’s up for it, and she is.
TL;DR: My Conclusions on the Sigma
When I get a lens like this, I like to put it on my camera for a while and force myself to use it as often as possible to make sure I understand it before any paying project. I removed my 24-70mm lens, my staple all-purpose lens, to keep this one as my go-to. F/1.4 is a really fun aperture to shoot at and see what you get, but you may get a lot of out-of-focus photos if you’re not careful. It happens. I am not using a tripod in everyday use and for fun photos of my daughter, so I’m not always using this in ideal conditions. I understand that I’m missing shots, especially with my active daughter. I find myself as such shooting f/1.8, f/2, etc, typically under f/2.8 since I felt I could then just use my other f/2.8 lens. May as well utilize a more open lens, especially for the sweet bokeh.
For portraits, I still feel I get too close to a subject with a 50mm. Yes, part of portrait work is bonding with your subject, and this does get you close, but I feel I’m still close enough with an 85mm and prefer that length at minimum for my portraits. If you’re in a tight indoor area, and 50mm is around the longest you can use, this lens is worth it. If I’m outdoors, I like longer lengths, but the 50mm can hold its own. You can do great full length photos and closeups with this 50mm, and I would trust it for sharp, detailed, incredible photos. The preference of the focal length will come down to how you shoot. If you’re not sure, and you have a zoom, look up what lengths you’re typically shooting at. If you’re nearly always at 70mm, it may suit you to go 85mm instead.
Buying the Lens
If this has helped you consider the lens, I ask to please use my referral links below to do so to help me continue to write these reviews. Greentoe is a kind of Priceline-for-Electronics site that I’ve used and spoke with. You can bid for better deals on lenses. Adorama is a known photography dealer that I trust as well. i wouldn’t recommend places I don’t use myself!